Monday, April 25, 2022

Greek Easter ~ Back to Normal

 Easter, or Pascha, as it is called here in Greece, has finally returned with all its splendor!

I am writing on Easter Monday, the final day of nearly a week-long celebration and religious observance in our adopted country.  The week is called Megali Evdomada (Holy Week, or literally, the Big Week). 

Epitaphios, Agios Nikolaos

And what a week it has been! Why, it was . . .back to normal!  And I hate to admit it, but we had almost forgotten what a normal Easter week is like here.

In case you think I have my week's mixed up, we celebrate Orthodox Easter in Greece so the date fell a week later than Easter celebrated by other religions this year.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnnes

 After a two-year absence due to 2020's Covid lockdowns and last year's subsequent precautions, the magnitude of the celebrations was evident in every part of the country. Ferries, trains, planes and highways have been jam-packed since Thursday as urban dwellers headed to ancestral homes. Being a celebration even larger than Christmas, Easter is a 'together time' here and finally family and friends could be together.  

Traditions Return

Shopping needs to be done early in Easter Week

We've been expats in the Peloponnese long enough to know that any business transactions or work that needs to be done, should be completed by Wednesday of Easter week as that is the day businesses begin closing for the weekend. The observances of  the holiday are taken very seriously here; a country in which 10 million are of the Orthodox religion.

By Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday the food preparations have begun and the religious ceremonies are underway.  

Epitaphios - Kardamyli on the highway 

Good Friday - a day filled with the somber ringing of church bells - is marked by  church services and processionals through cities and towns in the evening. The flower-covered, canopied Epitaphios, similar to a funeral bier, is carried through the streets following a service in the church. It is a somber, moving processional. A Greek friend nailed it when she said, 'Even if you don't believe in anything, you will be touched.' 

Good Friday - a somber celebration

The Easter service celebrating the Resurrection takes place Saturday evening, near midnight.  Candles are lit and the call, 'Cristos Anesti' (Christ is Risen) rings out.  It is a greeting that continues throughout the holiday weekend as that is how you greet friends and acquaintances. They reply, 'Alithos Anesti!' (Truly, He is Risen). 

Candles are lit - fireworks erupts over the harbor

The Holy Flame from which these candles are symbolically lit comes from the Holy Fire, a miracle that occurs at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem every year on Holy Saturday. A portion of that Fire is quite literally transported by plane from there to Athens where it is further divided and sent on planes to destinations within the country to be used in the Saturday night ceremonies. I couldn't help but chuckle when I read news reports that the flame arrived two hours late this year - due to Covid protocols prior to takeoff. That pesky Covid continues to make itself known!

Breaking the Fast

Our Easter feast is roasting

Sunday is feast day throughout the land as it officially ends the 40-day Lenten fasting. It is on this day families and friends fill restaurants to overflowing or gather for traditional lamb roasting and feasting in private homes. We've celebrated the day at restaurants in the past BC (Before Covid) but this year were treated to experiencing the event at the home of friends. The gathering included Greeks, English, Americans and Swiss.

By mid-morning the lamb had gone onto the spit. For those wondering why Greeks always roast a lamb it is because it represents Christ, the Holy Lamb of God.

Red-dyed eggs an Easter tradition in Greece

We had Greek music and Greek dancing (lessons for many of us, myself included), we broke the traditional red-dyed eggs, which symbolize the blood of Christ and the cracking of shells, His Resurrection. 

An Easter feast to remember

We ate home-cooked cheese pies, stuffed, roasted peppers, oven-roasted potatoes, tzatziki, beet salad, cheeses, breads and desserts too many to list.

The Weather Gods shown down on the celebration with temperatures in the high 70's, and blue skies overhead.

Reports from all sectors are that Greece is learning to live with Covid (it helps that our case numbers are dropping dramatically). If this is learning to live with it, I am all for it!

A gathering of family and friends on Easter

I often hashtag posts about life in Greece on Instagram and Facebook as #blessed.  Some days bring that feeling to life more strongly than others.  Easter this year, I believe, has made us all feel blessed and most thankful that Greece is righting itself after the Covid upset, and that we are able to gather with friends and family once again! 

That is it for this week.  We send wishes for safe travels to you and yours. And a big welcome to our new subscribers! Thanks for your time with us today.  Hope to see you next week - bring a friend or two with you!

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Friday, April 15, 2022

Road to Residency ~ Land of Limbo

Here we are. . .back on the Road to Residency! And once again it is leading us through the Land of Limbo.

The Road to Residency always something new along the way

As our regular readers know, we are American expats who've now been living almost full-time in Greece for the better part of five years.  For that reason, our rural slice of the Greek Peloponnese feels like home. We have our routines and chores, we have our friends and social life. We  have our doctors and dentists. When you are recognized at regulars at a beauty shop, you know you've settled in. 

The Scout and The Scribe on an ancient kalderimi (road)

Our rhythm of life is so set that it now seems a jolt, a major disruption in our norm, to go through the motions of reapplying for permission to continue living here, but that is one of the rules of the game when you lead an expat life.  

This residency renewal comes at a time when just a couple countries away from us, people who had a rhythm of life and a norm, are fleeing their country to stay alive. It is a stark contrast and one that puts the hurdles of the renewal process in perspective, but yet, doesn't make the process any easier or less stressful.

Photo credit: Onet Wiadomosci

Road to Residency Route Changes

No trip on the Road to Residency has been the same. There has always been just a 'little something' that needs tweaking or clarification or additional information so we are embarking on this journey alert for possible road blocks and detours. 

Greek detour notice - Stoupa village

One of the first changes we've encountered was the length of time for which the permit is valid. When we initially applied back in 2017, it was offered in a two-year increment, with a three-year renewal option followed by a five year permit.  By the time we applied for our three-year permit, the five-year renewal had been discontinued. Now the three-year permit is also history and we are back to a two-year permit.

However, the application fee which was 300 euros ($324US) per person back in 2017 went up to a 1000 euros ($1,081US) per person three years ago and remains that now.

No need or desire to work in Greece

We know of a number of you who reading this are contemplating a move to Greece and without Greek heritage, which takes you down a different path, you will all be expected to travel a road to residency; each route slightly different depending on the type of residency you are seeking.  We have the retired-don't-want-or-need-to-work version, which is called the Financially Independent residency permit.

Road to Residency in Greece - always an adventure

While the cost of application can take your breath away, one major money- and time-saving change is that we no longer needed to travel back to Washington State to gather and then get documents apostilled. Apostilles are like notary stamps, but at the government level certifying the document. In recent years a number of agencies in the US have developed a process of obtaining apostilles for those who are overseas and find themselves in need of such documents. It is still costly at $150 per page, yet far less than a trip back to the States.

Apostilled documents are part of residency permit process

And while on the topic of technology, a huge change is that the residency permit process has all gone on-line in Greece. No more trips to the Immigration Office where we sat in a stark waiting room for our turn to present our packet of papers to an official.

What hasn't changed, is the requirement for each applicant to provide documentation showing: a monthly income of 2,000 euros ($2,163US), have proof of medical insurance (the amount is determined by the Greek government), proof of residency (house purchase contract or rental agreement) and copies of each page of our passports.

Land of Limbo - Lockdown

Bologna at Night

Once the application process starts, which happens when our documents are submitted, as ours has now, we are no longer able to leave the country (except back to the US).

Authorities construe any travel outside Greece as abandonment of our application and our permit renewal could be denied.  At least three US friends who have been summoned to the Immigration office to pick up their residency cards have had their passports scrutinized by officials there before being finally issued their new cards. That is one of the reasons for our whirlwind trip to Italy two weeks ago (which I will tell you more about in a future post) - it will be the last of such getaways for many months. 

No cruises anytime soon while application process is active

It appears the computerization of the application process hasn't made it any faster.  Several Americans in our area are still awaiting permanent permit cards now many months into the application process.  One was summoned for an interview before a panel of six. Others have been asked for additional documentation. Two finally received their cards last month only to realize they expire again this coming November!

Our world. Agios Nikolaos.

As I said in the opening it is not a journey to be taken lightly - there is no fast-lane, direct route.  But we all agree, the destination, Greece and the life we have created here makes it worth taking.

That's it for this week. Our wishes for safe travels to you and yours. And good luck if you are among those of us in the Land of Limbo awaiting residency permits.  Welcome to our new readers, it is great to have you with us!

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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Travel: During The Best or Worst of Times

 We just returned from a week in a mostly windswept, rain-drenched Italy. A storm system arrived two days after we did.

Under the Tuscan Sun. . .briefly

Locals lamented our timing. "It was beautiful last week and it will be next week," we were assured time and time again as we made our way from Bologna to Florence and finally, Rome. The two photos taken on our train trip between Florence and Rome illustrate the fickle weather we experienced. The rain spells lasted longer than the sun bursts.

Tuscan rainstorm washed away the sun

Memories of what had been the weather and promises of that which was to come would do us no good - we were there for a week. While it certainly wasn't the best of times for a trip, it certainly wasn't the worst either. 

Pasta with cinghiale, wild boar, ragu

Walking between four and five miles a day, consuming as much pasta and Italian wine as we could and absorbing as many sights as possible in each of our stops made the week speed past. It will go down in the memory book as one of the best of times.

Travel Timing

We continue to read of people, Americans, in particular, postponing travel to Europe because of  'all that is going on over there' -  referencing Covid transmissions, Covid travel regulations/rules, and recently, the potential impact of the conflict in Ukraine. Some cite fears of food shortages and/or increased prices for food and fuel. 

For those folks concerned about one of more of those topics, this would be the worst of times for travel no matter what assurances I tried to provide. But because of those hesitant to travel, we decided it just might be one of the best times to travel.

Waiting to get near the Trevi Fountain - Rome

I guess we believed those headlines about tourism being down and people not traveling were painting an accurate picture of tourism. The reality is: people ARE traveling. Lots of people!  And many of them Americans.

It was most evident in Rome where prior to our arrival I had said I wanted to see the Trevi Fountain again  'before it was again overrun with tourists'.  It is the fountain, the centerpiece of the 1954 movie, 'Three Coins in the Fountain' where you stand near its edge, facing away from it and  toss a coin over your shoulder and make a wish to return to Rome.  Well, had I really wanted to make that wish, I'd probably still be standing there waiting to get anywhere near the fountain.  

Midway point in the line to enter the Pantheon - Rome

Moving on, we found ourselves nearing the Pantheon, I asked The Scout if he wanted to go in, as it has been years since we 'd last done that.  Luckily he didn't have his heart set on a return visit as we'd still be standing in the entrance line that stretched across the piazza and down a street.

Italian cappuccino can't be beat

Yet, the crowds haven't reached the pre-pandemic levels and we often found ourselves on small side streets meandering past shops and bars still frequented primarily by locals.  Those were some of the best of times, even with the umbrella unfurled and braced against the wind.

A highpoint of travel in Italy is indulging in cappuccinos,  - standing at the counter as locals do in the neighborhood bar.  The price had not changed: still 1.50 euros when consumed at the bar in the places we stopped. The cost goes up if you sit at a table but still is no more than what we pay in Greece: about 3 euros a cup.

A neighborhood bar in Florence

And when I write about drinking coffee or wine at the neighborhood bars, I am talking about tiny little places like the one pictured above.  

Table wine purchase by the half liter - 3 euros

Our whirlwind trip began in Bologna, the city we visited last fall. We found it far busier that it had been a few months ago but food and drink prices remained much as we remembered them being - quite reasonable. We stayed at the same hotel -- in the heart of the city's historic center - that we had last November. We were delighted to find a grocery store had opened across the street since our last visit.  I can report that shelves were full of essentials as well as gourmet treats.

The photo above was taken at a restaurant just off the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna.  The house red wine was served as it is in Greece, by the liter. This is a half liter that cost 3 euros - and The Scout deemed it the best 3-euro half liter of wine he'd ever consumed!

Time to Travel

Florence at night

For us the time to travel is now.  We've lost two years to Covid.  Soon we will find ourselves again unable to leave Greece as we begin the renewal process for our residency permits. It is a slow process made slower by backlogs from the Covid lockdown and a new online application system that doesn't seem to have streamlined the process at all.  

Street side restaurant Bologna

In the last year we've lost good friends - and fellow travel enthusiasts. Each loss has been a sad reminder to carpe diem, seize the day. Tomorrow's travels aren't promised.  

The question of best or worst of times for travel must be answered by each individual traveler. I can tell you that the European Union is slowly lifting travel restrictions and requirements, making travel seem much more like it used to be. On this trip we were required to wear masks inside airports, public transport, hotels, retail and food and beverage establishments. Waitstaff told us on several occasions that Italy plans to discontinue the mask requirement the first of May. But aside from being rather tedious to wear it - it didn't impact the travel experience.

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We hope that if you are traveling your experiences are good ones. Write and tell us about them in the comments below or shoot us an email.  We will continue the Italy tour in our next post. Until then, happy travels ~ be they be in real time or by armchair.   And welcome to our new subscribers, it is nice to have you with us!!  If you haven't yet signed up (subscribed)  to receive these posts as emails, (for free), just fill in your address in the box on the home page.

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